August 2003 Archives

Media #3

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Yesterday was fairly hectic around here. We had an electrical inspection to hopefully close out that permit but there's apparently still some debate around our battery box. So we wait again.

In the morning I received word from Simon Boone (Generation Solar) that CHEX TV (our local CBC affiliate) had seen the Peterborough Examiner article and wanted to do an on camera interview with me for the six o'clock news. The CHEX guy showed up while the inspector was still inspecting so he did some shooting around the house. Then he did a segment outside the house looking up at the panels and a short interview with both Simon and myself inside. Unfortunately he cut Simon's piece such that it appears Simon is almost recommending against solar power (based on cost). Off-grid and grid-intertie aren't all beer and roses but I doubt that you'll find many people on the east coast expressing great support for the status quo. From what others have told me I looked and sounded fine, it's hard to judge personally since it's always just sorta freaky seeing yourself on TV.

One of the things that bothers me a bit about this media attention (and yes, I knew it was coming after last Thursday) is the natural bias of the media to see us as radicals. Not in that we choose to live differently but in that since we choose to live this way we must also be out blocking whaling ships in Zodiacs on the weekends, churning our own butter, and such. Each reporter, upon learning that Joanne is pregnant, asked if we will be doing a home birth (we aren't). I tried very hard especially with the CP interviewer to reinforce the idea that we are just normal people, living our lives in a normal home, except of course that we generate our own power. I have found with some people that as the environmentally friendly buzz words about our home (passive solar) start to pile up (straw bale) I can sense that (off grid) we are being further and further marginalized in their minds. This perception definately appears in most of the media surrounding houses like ours. In a way I end up trying to seem less green that I really am in the hopes that people might start see renewables as a reasonable option.

What I would rather see is some indication from the media, from the government that there are lessons to be learned from the events of last Thursday, and that some of them might be learned by looking, really looking at houses like mine and the thousands of other people around North America who produce their own power. Or they could just patch the grid, everyone can crank their air conditioning and hope that the problem solves itself. Guess which I think is going to happen.

Canadian Press Article

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It looks like finding a online link for the Canadian Press article is going to be problematic so for now (or until CP sends me a cease and desist) here's the article text: has picked up the article, thanks to Art for the heads-up.

Some Links

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Wired article on distributed power generation (micropower):

The Energy Web

A look at the Ohio power company that seems to have been the start of the trouble:

Lights Out on Deregulation

Interested in Off-grid or Grid Inter-tie? Home Power magazine is a good place to start:

Home Power Magazine

Media #2

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Here's the article on the Peterborough Examiner Website. No pictures in the online version, but I'll be grabbing a couple of the paper issues today. I'm pleased that they put in Jo's quote about there being no incentives for people to try renewables as well as J.P.'s line about the artificially low cost of hydro in this province. How can we convince people to conserve when power is nearly as cheap as water? The bill for fixing the hydro rate at 4.3¢/kwh is now in the hundreds of millions and will likely exceed a billion dollars by the end of the summer. I can't help but think that money would be far better spent on education and grants for renewables. Get some solar panels up on some roofs and some good metering so that people are more aware of what they are using.

All of the attention in the media is around which part of the grid failed, where it broke, and how decrepit the whole transmission network has become. But there has been very little comment on how overloaded the system is, how all of the power the air conditioners, incandescent lights, and billboards are constantly drawing. Small amounts of conservation can add up to huge savings. If you are one the grid look around your house, your place of business, your community and ask yourself, "Did the failure start in Ohio, or did it start right here?"

I'd like to believe that articles like today's will make a change but really I think we're just a form of oddity, "Step right up, gaze in wonder at the people who live off grid." Just another stop on the blackout media tour. I'd like to think that this blackout could be the start of a change but really I suspect that they'll cobble the grid back together and life will return to normal. And now I've just learned that CHEX TV is on thier way out to do a story on us. It is going to be an interesting day.

Media #1

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Several pieces of good news today: the bank came back with our appraisal, which directly effects our mortgage, and it was VERY favourable, and the insurance company is going to cover the generator, so we should be getting a new one soon!

Today we were visited by a reporter and photographer from the Peterborough Examiner. They were interested in people who lived off the grid. A topic that we expect will be of great interest for the next little while. The article is supposed to appear in tomorrow's paper, I will post a link to the online version if there is one.

Hah! And everybody thought that when the media came to take a picture of me I'd be getting out of the back of a cruiser with somebody else's coat over my head.

Huge power failure strikes East Coast

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I think the word I'm looking for is ... schadenfreude.

This update is actually one week late. The septic system is done and covered over and half of the final grading is complete. So we can now flush whenever we feel like and we don't spend any more time worrying about the level of our holding tank. We've also got a layer of topsoil laid over the septic bed and I'll be seeding it this week (if the rain keeps coming). We've had unseasonably cool and rainy weather this month, which is just fine by me, and means that the grass might get a hold before the August heat hits us. Of course we took pictures to document the whole process.

In other news we've started the process of getting a mortgage now that the house is largely done and we've started closing out our permits. The health department permit (for the septic system) is closed and on Saturday we had our final inspection for our building permit. The inspector, who has been great through this whole process, told us that although we had a few outstanding issues he would close the permit. So now all we have to clear is our electrical inspection.

That is looking to be the biggest hurdle. The inspector was happy with all of the work Dad and I did inside the house he had issues with the off-grid system. His problem wasn't with the quality of the work, but with a bunch of stuff that ended up sounding to me more like he didn't like all this new-fangled off-grid stuff than anything else. Anyway Simon and JP, calm as always, will be taking care of all that and I'm happy to let them. If you're going off grid good installers are worth their weight in gold.

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